Doing Ethics in Media

Companion to "Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications"

Doing Ethics in Media - Companion to "Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications"

Jeff Jarvis on why ‘sponsored content,’ advertorials and other blurrings between news and ads are a bad thing

Worth a read today is Jeff Jarvis writing about the blurring between news and advertising content. He argues that advertising that looks like news content is bad because of:

  • Inconsistency in the ethics of news organizations that do this.
  • Conflicts of interest between advertisers and news.
  • Brand value losses for news organizations.

His bottom line: “My advice to news organizations: Move out of the content — and sponsored content — business and get into the service business, where content is just one of your tools to serve the public.”

The only dissonance in his Buzzfeed argument comes when he uses Google as an example of a company that does it right because, among other things, it bans advertorial content at As he writes: “Google is taking over huge swaths of the ad market by providing service to users and sharing risk with advertisers, not by selling its soul in exchange for this quarter’s revenue, as some news organizations are doing.”

Google’s dominance in online advertising is among the many reasons why more news organizations feel pressured to create more advertorial content, even at the soul-selling expense of long-term intangibles such as credibility and influence.

What’s missing in his sentence is the reminder that Google isn’t in the news content creation business. It’s in the service business — of serving other people’s content to audiences. It’s just the best middleman ever. But Google wouldn’t prosper without content to aggregate, and the battle is over how to value that content.

News organizations’ Faustian bargain with Google means the search engine sends traffic to their content, and Google makes money doing it even as it puts downward pressure on online ad rates. (Here are reasons in favor and against the relationship, an argument that publishers are really to blame, and Google’s response. The reasons really don’t matter, because this bell cannot be unrung, even as I used Google to find many of the links for this post.) Still, note that in Germany, after an uproar from news organizations, Google does not sell advertising on its news site and can only provide snippets of third-party content.

Do journalists work for readers — or their (bosses’) bosses? A CNET and CBS vs. Dish example

Journalists running afoul of the real-or-imagined business interests of their bosses is nothing new.

As a technology columnist for The Birmingham News and Newhouse Newspapers in the 1990s, I remember being told I couldn’t mention AT&T’s debut of its online, searchable Yellow Pages because they competed for ads with the newspaper. (Seems quaint now, doesn’t it?)

The latest example of journalists not thinking of business interests came at the Consumer Electronics Show, after CNET sent a tweet naming Dish Network’s “Hopper with Sling” product was among its finalists for a “Best of CES” award.

As Buzzfeed explains, there’s a problem: CBS owns CNET, and CBS hates “Hopper” because the new digital video recorder makes it easy for viewers to blow, or at least hop, past commercials. CBS hates it so much that it and Fox have sued Dish, because (as Fox says) the Hopper has “the clear goal of violating copyrights and destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem.”

CBS executives made sure the product didn’t make the CNET’s final Best of CES list, which concluded with with this caveat:

The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.

Dish, of course, is claiming that CBS is evil for “censoring” CNET. (Others might argue that Dish has been known to censor, too, by dropping desirable channels over contract disputes.)

Ultimately, this seems to be a case of journalists not knowing that — whether they like it or not — their top loyalty was not allowed to be with readers.

Jan. 14, 2013: An update: Greg Sandoval of CNET has quit over CBS’ interference, saying that journalists “are supposed to be truth tellers.”


Can campaigning, commentating mix yet still be fair and balanced?

Oct. 7, 2010

As objectivity continues to be a concern and controversial issue among media outlets across the nation, Fox News has entered the center of the discussion.

Fox News has formed a contract with four candidates that are potentially running for the presidential election. The problem for many is that the contract states that these candidates, for the time being, can only talk to Fox News and no other network.

In a statement release by Fox News, the news outlet states, “All contributors are exclusive to Fox News. On occasion, they will make appearances on other networks — when they have books to promote — and in those cases their contributor agreements are suspended during that period. Fox News has made rare exceptions for various contributors in terms of appearances on other networks, but instances are few and far between.” Continue reading

CNN’s Sanchez runs his mouth, loses his job: Is that ethical?

October 5, 2010

CNN news anchor Rick Sanchez was fired on Friday after making some controversial comments about the network and comedian Jon Stewart, the New York Times reported.

Appearing for an interview on Pete Dominick’s satellite radio show on Sept. 30, Sanchez said his network, like the rest of the media, was run by Jewish liberals who didn’t want him to succeed. He went on to say that Stewart held the same belief and was a “bigot.”

Stewart, who is the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has mocked Sanchez at least 20 times on his show in the past five years, the Times later reported. Continue reading

Online lies, different results

Sept. 1, 2010

The early August story of Jenny, the girl who quit her job by using a dry erase board to post a series of nasty comments about her boss, lasted less than a day before it was revealed to be a hoax. (Jenny is actually an actress.)

It’s not the first time the guys behind the hoax have fooled people before. They say it’s fun to see the buzz, to create the online memes, and to fool the media. Continue reading

There’s illegal, there’s unethical…

…and there’s illegal and unethical.

Such is the case of Reverb Communications, whose employees in late August 2010 posed as consumers who just happened to love Rock Band so much that they gave it great reviews on iTunes. The company told The New York Times it did no wrong, but said its investigation and other evidence shows that the company systematically placed glowing reviews on products produced by companies it represents.

Continue reading

Gork, Gators, Arkansas: Put on your ethics hat

Aug. 19, 2010

It’s common knowledge that it’s a mistake to take a knife to a gunfight. The same is true for reporters who wear a Gator hat to an Hog event.

Renee Gork made that mistake – and killed her job as a radio sports reporter –after she wore a Florida Gators hat to an Arkansas Razorback football media conference over the weekend of Aug. 14-15, according to reports from Arkansas sports blog The Slophouse and other news accounts.

Gork lasted less than a month as a host with KAKS, which calls itself Hog Sports Radio. She’s a University of Florida grad who says she wasn’t thinking when she grabbed the hat on Saturday morning.

Continue reading